It's hard not to look forward to the French presidential elections, whose first round is only two and half months away, with a sense of foreboding.
Since 1995 France has been the European country that has displayed the fiercest social resistance to neoliberalism.
But this social rebellion won’t get the political representation it needs in the presidential elections.
The two mainstream candidates, Nicolas Sarkozy of the ruling right and Segolene Royal of the Socialist Party, both model themselves on Tony Blair, advocating free market “reforms” and authoritarian attacks on civil liberties.
Until recently Royal was in the lead – marketing herself, duplicitously, as the “anti-establishment” candidate. But now Sarkozy, who denounced the Arab and black inhabitants of France’s working class suburbs as “scum”, has nudged ahead.
If that weren’t bad enough, the radical left is likely to be represented by at least four candidates. This is astonishing, given the united campaign that defeated the neoliberal European Constitution in the referendum of 29 May 2005.
In the 29 May collectives that sought to continue the spirit of the referendum campaign, a powerful aspiration developed for a “unitary” presidential candidate of the radical left.
But by the end of last year it was clear this project was not going to succeed, thanks to the opposition of the two most powerful political organisations to the left of the Socialist Party.
The Communist Party tried unsuccessfully to bully the collectives into endorsing its general secretary, Marie-George Buffet.
The majority of the far more principled Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) stayed aloof from the collectives, fearing that a unitary candidacy would be used by the Socialist and Communist Parties to win support for a centre-left coalition government pursuing neoliberal policies.
Now the anti-capitalist activist Jose Bove has announced that he is running for president and has won the support of the surviving collectives.
But he won’t be a genuine unitary candidate, since he will be competing with both Buffet and the LCR’s candidate, Olivier Besancenot.
There will also be another credible far left candidate, Arlette Laguiller of the Trotskyist organisation Lutte Ouvriere, who has run in every presidential election since 1974. It is also by no means certain that Bove or Besancenot will get the nominations of the 500 mayors they need to stand.
The LCR could make this situation less farcical by withdrawing Besancenot and campaigning for Bove. This would probably be the best outcome, but the LCR majority are unlikely to do this because they regard Bove as an unreliable maverick.
Where does this leave the minority inside the LCR who have been trying to persuade their comrades to give up their suspicions of the collectives and support a unitary candidate?
Many of the leaders of this minority are seriously considering defying the LCR’s discipline and campaigning for Bove.
I think this would be a big mistake. Like it or not, there will not be a united radical left candidate. The LCR majority bear part of the responsibility for this, but this is not a reason for splitting the the organisation.
The endless elections that are a feature of the French political system mean that even the revolutionary left tends to be obsessed with electoral tactics.
The process of building a new left in France on a principled basis has undeniably suffered a big setback. But this doesn’t alter the importance of the LCR, which embodies the best of the French revolutionary tradition and has been involved in every major struggle from 1968 onwards.
Splitting the LCR won’t improve the situation. On the contrary, it will weaken one of the main instruments for renewing the French left.
Those who have fought unsuccessfully inside the LCR to support a unitary candidate need to stick with the organisation. This will mean campaigning for Besancenot on the understanding that this is just one battle in a much longer war.